I am using the Ask a Feminist column to respond to some questions brought up in the recent “Mormon Feminism: A Patheos Symposium”. In Melissa Proctor’s eloquent argument “A Source of Social Capital” she mentioned WAVE directly and asked some great questions.
At the end of her statement, Proctor argues, “WAVE explicitly identifies itself as “feminist,” by virtue of a stated commitment to gender equality, but also asserts that being feminist and faithful are not mutually exclusive. The website indicates that WAVE hopes to “make changes to policy and practice that do not require doctrinal variation” and that its primary purpose is to “uplift,” and “support” women. Such a gentle, almost pastoral Mormon feminism seems unlikely to evoke outrage or result in ecclesiastical discipline. No doubt, this gradual, incrementalist approach to increased gender equality in the church has strategic advantages compared with outright defiance of church leadership, but as it is described, one wonders what concrete goals the organization hopes to achieve.”
“Furthermore, the dubious assumption that gender inequality in the church is primarily a policy issue and not a doctrinal one comes across as wishful thinking. It seems likely that WAVE will ultimately find itself committed either to a loose version of “faithful” or to certain compromises of equality. As Kathryn ably points out, “the issue of primacy is unavoidable for those who are Mormon and feminist.” If WAVE’s first commitment is to the church, where exactly will it compromise on equality? If WAVE’s first commitment is to gender equality, where will it draw the line with the church? WAVE seems unaware of the inevitable impasse, as though it will somehow, inexplicably, get right what earlier Mormon feminists got wrong.”
Ask a Feminist Response:
Thank you for your interest in WAVE and your thorough reading of our mission statement. We appreciate people who think critically about these issues and help us to do the same. We would love to have you be a part of WAVE and help us continue to find ways to make changes for gender equality in the church. Your ideas would be welcomed.
In response to your questions, I think you are correct in being skeptical about the limits of Mormon feminism in general and specifically in an organization set on instigating change. I’ve isolated and highlighted your main concerns below.
What concrete goals WAVE hopes to achieve? I know you asked for concrete goals, but I have to start with some abstract goals. Wave wants to 1) instigate, promulgate, inculcate, and aid positive changes for greater gender equality in the church, 2) last a long time, 3) function as the action based arm of the LDS feminist bloggernacle, and 4) support women of faith in their struggle with religious gender discrimination by providing a place for action, interaction, discussion, and education.
More concretely, WAVE is an organization that facilitates actionable change. We are not a “movement”. We are not a program. We are not a check list. We are the tool that people can use to communicate, organize, connect, and publicize their ideas. Think of it this way, others are interested in the theoretical or nomothetic course of LDS feminism. We are interested in the praxis, the method. We realized that there were a lot of blogs out there talking about the issues affecting women in the church but none dedicated to doing anything about it. WAVE’s most basic goal is to do something about it!
We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. There are fantastic LDS feminist blogs out there creating excellent content and discussion. We want to be the place where all of the blogs converge to DO SOMETHING! For example, in a recent discussion on FMH entitled, “On being the change (and sometimes being to tired to be)” there were 119 comments about the inappropriateness of bishops being alone with and interviewing youth about sexual topics. In fact, some of the comments even mentioned ways to ameliorate the problem. It was a wonderful discussion, but that was all it was, a discussion. There was no challenge to encourage people to go talk to their bishops, no letter writing campaign, no call for action, no solicitations for Ensign, New Era, Mormon Times, Dialogue, Sunstone, or Patheos articles about the topic, no petition to sign, no pamphlet to pass out, no step in the direction of real change for that particular topic. Enter WAVE. We can do that.
We are in our relative infancy and are just beginning to promote activities and organize Calls to Action. So far we have created monthly Calls to Action, distributed petitions, highlighted informational articles, answered questions, facilitated discussions and personal stories, and promoted service opportunities. We are working on a quotebook of LDS women’s voices to accompany church literature and we maintain an active presence on facebook and twitter. Most of our content so far is created out of the board’s interests but as we grow we hope to transition away from content creation to action organization.
This is where you come in. We need content creators, blog writers, and people from the various LDS feminist blogs to find topics that their readers are interested in and pass the discussion on to us. We will transform that discussion into steps for actionable change. Thus, bloggers can continue creating content, facilitating discussions, educating readers, and piquing interest, and we will worry about how to apply that information to real world change.
In a sense you are WAVE. Everyone is WAVE. Your participation changes the direction we take, the challenges we promote, the calls to action we support.
This is a long response to basically say that we don’t have ultimate goals for the future of LDS feminism, you do. We are the resource capable of proximate changes to bring those goals to pass.
Do you think gender inequality in the church is primarily a policy issue and not a doctrinal one? It is both. But as an organization whose primary goal is to promote change for gender inequality in the church we have no power to do anything about doctrinal inequalities. As such, we have two choices: give up now or do something about the things we can change. We choose the latter.
Unfortunately, there is enough policy based gender discrimination to keep us busy for a very long time. We hope that as these policy issues change the “doctrinal” ones will become more apparent to the people with decision making power. For now we are hoping that continued revelation means more revelation for women as well.
Are you unaware of the inevitable impasse between a commitment to the church and a commitment to equality? We are aware. Every board member has struggled with these two sometimes contradictory commitments. This battle has fueled the creation of WAVE and all of the subsequent (volunteer) hours, late nights, debates, frustrations, stigmatization, and criticism that comes from heading an organization inevitably failing either the church or the feminists. We are more than aware of this, we live this every day! What is the solution? Do tell. We would love to know the perfect balance. Until then we are trying to maintain a faithful feminist approach. We don’t want to have to give up the church or our commitment to equality. Will we eventually have to choose one over the other? Realistically, it is a constant question in the back of our minds. Ideally, we hope not. If we can create changes that have positive effects for greater equality for women in the church that impasse might not be as inevitable. We might never live to see equality fully realized, but change however small gives reasonable doubt to the inevitable.
As such, will you compromise your faith or your commitment to equality? To some being a member of a patriarchal organization or church is already counterintuitive to equality. To others, being a feminist means our faithfulness is lacking. For most of us, it undulates between the two and being in the middle often means compromising on both sides.
However the word compromise means very different things to different people depending on its intent. For theoretically based arguments, compromise connotes lacking integrity, selling out, and not being fully committed. In applied settings compromise is the currency through which change occurs. From marriage to negotiation, compromise is a tool people use to take positive steps in the right direction. It is the quickest way to benefit both parties. As an application based organization, WAVE views compromise as a resource for going beyond talking points to actually changing behavior. Ultimately, we need both the uncompromising theory of content creators and the practical applications of WAVE to accomplish our goals.
Do you assume you will inexplicably get right what earlier Mormon feminists got wrong? There is nothing inexplicable about it. We very clearly state our goals and mission and are open to any ideas, criticisms, and feedback that anyone wants to offer. We are a free open source resource that anyone can use and see ourselves as an appendage to and tool for all internet based LDS feminist content and bloggers.
We are very concerned with learning from our LDS feminist foremothers and carrying on their torch. We don’t think they “got it wrong,” more accurately, we think they laid the foundation on which we are all standing.
Ask a Feminist